Public works projects make customizing your town even more addictive, ordinances help tailor the experience around your schedule, plenty of new fruits and items to collect, greater sharing options
Starts off even more slowly than earlier titles, new features are doled out gradually, no in-game way to track upcoming events, grass still deteriorates if you run too frequently
In retrospect, it’s safe to say Animal Crossing: City Folk was something of a disappointment. After the charming GameCube title and the mechanical refinements of its DS followup, Wild World (which included taking the series online, albeit tentatively), City Folk squandered any potential it had to move the series forward by retreading the exact same ground as its predecessors, even going so far as to recycle Wild World’s hourly soundtrack note for note. This revealed an interesting dilemma facing the series: newcomers to the world of Animal Crossing (and there were certainly many of them given Wii’s large install base) were none the wiser to City Folk’s failings, but fans of the series had played what was effectively the same game for the third time in a row. If Animal Crossing was to persist as one of Nintendo’s flagship properties, it was clear the company needed to take the franchise in a new direction.
With Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Nintendo looks to do just that by shaking the series up in a number of fundamental ways, most notably by giving players the keys to the city. Unlike earlier installments of the franchise, New Leaf thrusts you into the role of town mayor. (The old mayor, Tortimer, has retired to an island resort just off shore of your village.) This is without a doubt the most significant of the game’s new features, opening up a number of new and creative gameplay opportunities for players to explore, and giving longtime fans enough of an incentive to lure them back into the series.
Not that you’d tell when you first start the game, though; your first few days in New Leaf begin even more slowly than in previous titles. Unlike City Folk, you do not have the option of importing your item catalog over to your new file, so you’ll once again be starting your furniture collection from scratch after settling into town. On a more positive note, you’re no longer forced into Tom Nook’s servitude as soon as you set foot in the village, so you won’t be writing up adverts and planting flowers around his store for the umpteenth time. But you will have to gather a 10,000 Bell down payment for your home before he can even begin constructing it, which means you’ll be spending your first night in town camped out in a tent (not exactly the most glamorous welcome for the new mayor).
Once your house is completed, you’ll have to raise your approval rating among the villagers in order to file for a building permit, without which you cannot build new facilities around town. This is done in typical Animal Crossing fashion, chatting with your neighbors and running errands for them at their request. Once you’ve achieved a high enough approval rating, you’ll have to wait an entire day for the permit to be approved, during which time you’ll be limited to doing the same activities you’ve done in previous Animal Crossing games– digging up fossils, catching insects and fish, and planting trees and flowers (depending on which tools you find at the store). If you’re a series veteran, this opening will seem wearingly familiar.
Once you settle into the rhythm of your new life, however, the game begins to open up considerably. Before long your building permit will be approved and you’ll be able to undertake public works projects, which will allow you to build all kinds of constructs– from street lamps and park benches to fountains and even new facilities– around your village. This is the easily the most satisfying addition that New Leaf brings to the series. Earlier games gave you some degree of freedom in customizing your town by allowing you to arrange its trees and flowers as you saw fit, but New Leaf takes this concept one step further by giving you a host of new items with which to decorate it. Being able to place street lamps and other fixtures around your village is one of the most addictive elements in the entire game, and the sheer range of projects you can build, with new ones opening up at fairly regular intervals, ensures that everyone’s town will have its own individual flair.
As part of your mayoral duties, you also have the ability to issue one of four possible ordinances for your town to follow. These, likewise, allow you to further customize the game to your liking; players who prefer to visit their towns at night can order stores to stay open later, while those who spend most of their time gardening can issue an ordinance that prevents flowers from wilting and weeds from springing up. Thanks to these new laws, you’ll no longer be penalized for not playing the title every day (and you won’t have to worry about your town being overrun with weeds if you happen to take an extended break from it), making New Leaf a much more leisurely and enjoyable experience than previous games.
Of course, this greater emphasis on customization also means you’ll be spending a lot more money than you did in your other villages (public projects certainly don’t come cheap). Fortunately, Bells are much easier to acquire in New Leaf thanks to the aforementioned tropical resort. Around your fourth day in town you’ll be visited by the former mayor himself, who invites you to take a break from your responsibilities at the nearby island. The following morning you’ll find Kapp’n docked at your shore (in a nice nod to the GameCube title), waiting to ferry you off to the resort whenever you please. The resort’s tropical climate means that you can find certain insects and fish at the island– ones that would typically only appear during the summer months– all year round, allowing you to stock up on rare fauna and sell them for a tidy profit back at town. The island is also home to exotic new fruits like durians and bananas, giving you even more options for customizing your village (and another means to earn some quick cash).
But perhaps the best thing about the island is that you can also visit it with other travelers, either from the same region or from around the world, via Wi-Fi. After joining “Club Tortimer,” the game can randomly match you up with three other players the next time you take a trip to the resort. In addition to catching insects and fish together, you can embark on special “tours” with your fellow travelers, each of which plays out like a simple mini-game; one tour, for instance, has you collecting a certain number of fireflies within the time limit, while another has you running around a hedge maze collecting specific fruits. Not only are the tours a fun diversion from your usual routine, each one awards you with the island’s currency, medals, which can be used to purchase special island-themed furniture and clothing from the island’s gift shop.
The other big new addition in Animal Crossing: New Leaf is Main Street, a shopping district located just beyond your town’s train tracks. Like the eponymous city in City Folk, Main Street gathers the series’ usual stores– the post office, the Able Sisters’ shop, Nookling Junction, et cetera– in one convenient place, making shopping much less of a hassle for players. It also expands the more you play the game; like your mayoral duties, new stores will periodically open up on Main Street, giving you another incentive to check your town each day. Before long a flower shop will nestle in between the convenience store and the tailor, allowing you to purchase saplings and rare seeds to plant around your town, and the street will even play host to a night club where you and a few friends can hear Animal Crossing’s resident bard, K. K. Slider, perform his music. This kind of dynamic growth keeps the experience constantly engaging and makes the whole game feel much more alive than ever before.
As excellent as New Leaf is, however, there are a few issues that mar the overall experience. As mentioned above, the pacing can be a bit frustrating at first, particularly if you’ve played earlier installments of the series. Your mayoral duties are doled out at a snail’s pace, and you can only build one public works project per day, limiting the amount of work you can accomplish during each play session. To the game’s credit, this decision does give players an incentive to visit their towns every day, but for fans who’ve been following the series since its debut, it can seem like an unnecessary barrier between the game’s new features. Likewise, for all of New Leaf’s added convenience, there is, as far as I can tell, still no way to track upcoming events within the game itself, which is a slight annoyance. The game’s official web site does keep a handy list of holidays and events to look forward to, but that’s hardly the most convenient way to find out when the next in-game event will be held. It would have been nice to see New Leaf reprise another GameCube feature, the journals, to alleviate this issue.
It also appears that “animal tracks” have made a return in New Leaf as well. Animal tracks were one of the more reviled “innovations” in City Folk, a feature that kept track of the routes you’d frequently take around your town and would deteriorate the grass accordingly, creating a dirt path. It was a clever idea in concept, but in practice it proved to be a disastrous addition to the series, as towns would become covered in large swathes of dirt the more players visited them (and the rate at which the grass grew back was far too slow to keep up with the deterioration). I don’t know just how unwieldy it can become in New Leaf; I’ve been careful to avoid running around my town to prevent any damage. But I’m nevertheless starting to notice certain patches of grass in my town thinning out, which is not the most promising sign.
That said, these issues are fairly trivial in light of the game’s strengths. Once it hits its stride, Animal Crossing: New Leaf becomes one of the most addictive titles on 3DS, avoiding the pitfalls that made its predecessor City Folk such a disappointing experience. Customizing your town with public works projects adds a new layer of personality to the gameplay, and the new tropical resort provides a fun diversion from your usual routine (not to mention makes earning Bells much less tedious). Along with greater sharing options (clothing designs can be shared with other players via QR codes, and the game even allows you to take your own screenshots by pressing the system’s shoulder buttons), these features make New Leaf the perfect starting point for any player looking to get into the Animal Crossing series for the first time, and they give old fans plenty of incentives to pack up and move to a new city yet again.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.